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THE GLOVES COME OFF IN THE HOUSE

We show below an extract from the recent Defence Debate which clearly outlines the frustration from a number of M.P.’s of the continuing erosion of the Defence Industrial base, with no one from the Government standing up to stop the rot – expect more to come.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger. 17 Apr 07: “I’ve served 6 months away each year in the Sand, every year for the last 4 years. But that didn’t knock my morale anywhere near as much as crewing in at 0400 but not getting flying until 1700.” The Nimrod is becoming the RAF’s Skoda. The men want to fly, but I am afraid that the plane is clapped out. I should like to bring another entry to the Chamber’s attention: “A serving crew member told me of a recent sortie in search of a submarine, the radar was not working on the Nimrod…When he asked how he was supposed to find a submarine without radar he was told to look out of the window and use his eyes!”

Even if only a small proportion of those stories are true, there is a major problem to which I hope the Minister and the Government will own up and say, “We need to cough up.” We must not and should not put aircrews at risk because the kites that they are flying are beyond their sell-by dates. We should never put anything into the air that does not have the proper equipment inside it. Ibelieve that the bulk of the work on the aircraft is the responsibility of BAE Systems, and guess who is building the replacement to Nimrod. The new plane was conceived in the mid ‘90s, when 21 were ordered. That fell to 18 under the Labour Government, and I believe that the number is now 12. However—hold on to your hats—Nimrod’s replacement should be in service by 2011. Three prototypes have been tested already. They look remarkably like the old Nimrods, but then they are based on the same old airframe. Basically, BAE Systems has been squeezed by the MOD, which has in turn been squeezed by the Treasury. I put it bluntly to the Minister: I am afraid that son of Nimrod is a cheap facelift.

I represent a constituency with a proud history of providing our Army, Navy and Air Force with the means to do the job. In Bridgwater, we make bombs and explosives and have done so efficiently, economically and successfully for more than 50 years. Some of my constituents are the best legal bomb makers in the business. They are true specialists, and, as the Minister is well aware, dedicated to their work. However, in a month or so there may be no more work for them to do. BAE Systems runs the old Royal Ordnance factory just outside Puriton and, as the Minister is aware, it intends to close the place. It and, dare I say it, the MOD believe that they can buy what Britain needs elsewhere in the world—and, unfortunately, cheaper. I think that they are misguided, and I am not alone. Some 136 skilled people agree with me—as does the noble Lord King, my parliamentary predecessor and former Secretary of State for Defence, as do many people with a real understanding of ordnance supplies. To shut the plant would be more than a local blow. It would be a national disgrace and could put the very defence of the realm at risk.

We started making armaments in Bridgwater during the last war; it was a question of genuine necessity. Germany was stretching our military capabilities to the limits and we needed more weapons. Over the years, the discreet little plant has churned out munitions for every theatre of war in which we have taken part since the second world war, as has Chorley.

In my local Royal Ordnance factory, the famous bouncing bombs that destroyed the
Ruhr dams were designed and built. I dare say that Sir Barnes Wallis, their inventor, would rotate in his grave if he thought that the factory was doomed.
The bombs that we aimed successfully at Saddam Hussein’s bunkers were primed in
Puriton and the explosives, the final charges, for Trident missiles are also made there.

The work force were, and remain, very special. Originally, they—experts with cool heads—wer

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